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How to Become a Freelance Writer

by Steve Scott | Join Him On Facebook

As you know, I often discuss the fact that I run a number of online businesses which include this blog,  a few  affiliate marketing sites and an information product.  I’ve done well through a number of passive income sources.  But with all that said, there are a lot of different avenues to being self-employed.

So last week, I decided to contact Melissa(who creates a lot of content for my business) and get her to reveal some of her secrets about freelance writing.  Instead of trying to piece together the process, I figure you’d get more of a benefit from someone who does this work on a daily basis.  So take it away Melissa!

Hi everyone! First off, I’d like to thank Steve for giving me the opportunity to discuss my career on his website. Yep, that’s right, my career—I truly, honestly earn a living working as a freelance writer. A few weeks ago I was at the hair salon and as the stylist was making small talk she asked me what I do for a living. I tried to explain that I write web content and manage companies’ blogs, but I noticed a look of confusion on her face before she said, “So… like… you get paid for that?”

You Really Can Become a Freelance Writer and Earn a Decent Living

That woman is not alone in her confusion—a lot of people have the misconception that “freelance writer” really means “unemployed slob.”  I’m certainly not a millionaire (far from it, actually) but I haven’t had a “real job” since 2006 and I’m able to pay my bills with the salary that I earn from writing.

I can’t claim to possess the “hidden secrets to success” about how to become a freelance writer—believe me, I wish I could—but apparently I’m doing something right. I did go to college, but my degree is not in English or journalism and I’m certainly no Hemingway. Nonetheless, I consider myself a decent writer and other people seem to share that feeling since they hire me to write for them.

7 Suggestions on How to Become a Freelance Writer

If you love to blog and you’ve been wondering how you can become a freelance writer, here are 7 suggestions that I feel will come in handy along the way. They are things that I do (or have done) myself. Some of them are fairly lengthy “tips” that actually cover a couple of different topics, but I think that I’ve grouped things in a way that’s easy to understand.

#1- Write, write and then write some more.

As I mentioned above, I didn’t go to college with the intentions of becoming a writer, but I’ve always loved writing. (I actually remember winning some “Young Authors” contest back in elementary school, and the prize was a trip downtown to meet Donald J. Sobol, the author of the Encyclopedia Brown books.)

If you want to earn a living as a freelance writer, you’ve got to write. You can keep a journal, write short stories, blog, comment on news articles on your local paper’s website, write reviews for products that you just purchased online, anything! Just write! We’re all guilty of making spelling and grammatical errors here and there so practice may not really make perfect, but practice does help you improve your skills.

Write!

#2- Set up your own website or blog.

I think I started blogging before it was even called blogging. I got my first computer back when “the internet” was still something considered worthy of EPCOT Center, but I used a dial up modem to get onto Prodigy and then America Online. Things have obviously improved immensely since the mid-1990s and these days anyone can have a website, so set one up! I may be preaching to the choir here since most of Steve’s readers are bloggers, but some of you may not yet have your own website. If you don’t, get one.

WordPress and Blogger are both easy places to get going with a free blog. You can even create blog posts on your Facebook account, but if you want to be taken seriously I feel that it’s in your best interest to set up a self-hosted blog. That way you can register your own domain name and do things your way.

My current website is ShortHairDiva.com and if you check it out you’ll see that it’s a mix of stories and pictures about my personal life as well as information so potential clients can get in touch with me.

Note: some experts claim that any site or social media account you use for “work purposes” should have nothing to do with your personal life, but in all honesty it doesn’t bother me. I’ve had more than a few clients tell me it’s a relief to see that I’m a “real person” who they can actually get in touch with.

Once you have a website, update it as often as you can. You shouldn’t post sloppy, half-hearted work, but regular updates will provide more samples of your skills and hopefully keep people coming back. I am 100% guilty of not updating my website regularly, but I do aim to do it once or twice a month. I am a work-at-home mom, and right now I have to spend the majority of my time completing the projects that will help pay my bills, so my own site usually gets put on the back burner.

# 3- Join websites that were specifically created for freelancers who are looking for work.

The easiest way to get started earning an income from writing is through freelance websites. I initially began promoting myself as a writer through my husband’s web development company, but I’ve had the most success since joining several freelancer sites earlier this year.

I have had positive experiences with both Guru and Elance (URL) but plenty of others exist. Freelancer, Project4Hire, and iFreelance are a few others. You may have to pay a monthly fee to use these sites, but it’s typically worthwhile. Most freelance websites help protect both the “employer” and the “freelancer” by using an escrow service. If you are selected for a project, the employer will pay for it up front and the money will be held in escrow by the freelance website. Funds will be released to you upon successful completion of the project.

These sites are also beneficial because your customers can leave ratings or reviews after working with you. This can help immensely—if other people see that you did a great job for someone else, they’ll probably be more willing to hire you, too.

#4- Learn to expect the unexpected.

If you want to become a freelance writer, one of the first things you need to get it into your head is that you’ll most likely be doing a lot of different things for a lot of different people. This week alone I’ve written about catering, wedding dresses, designer sunglasses, celebrity gossip, college students and binge drinking, time management skills, mountain biking, dietary supplements and information technology. Obviously I’m not an expert in all of these areas, so I have to perform research as I write. Research takes time.

I’ve been at this long enough that I can “guesstimate” how long specific tasks are going to take me. When I first got started, though, things always took twice as long to finish as I thought they would. Be realistic and accept the fact that some projects will take longer than others. I keep a dry erase board next to my desk that I update with color-coded markers each week to keep track of things.

Some customers will provide you with 100% access to their website and expect you to upload your own content directly to their server. Others guard their passwords like gold, and expect you to send them content as an email attachment. These are all things to take into consideration. If you’re not too savvy with WordPress or Blogger or Textile or Joomla! or any of the other platforms out there, you may not want to tackle the task of managing the blog directly. (Learning some basic HTML can help, too.)

#5- Once you have been writing for clients for awhile, begin to “shrink” your niche.

In the beginning, I was willing to write about anything and everything. If it was work, I took it. These days, I am able to pick and choose and write about things I enjoy or things I’m fairly knowledgeable about. This helps in two ways: if you write about something you like, it doesn’t feel like “work” and if you write about what you know, you won’t have to spend as much time doing research.

However, freelance writing is not a guaranteed form of income. At the moment I have about ten “regular” clients that I write for each week, but some weeks I earn double what I earned the week before based on when a project ends or how much work each client sends my way. If the going gets tough and you need money fast, you’ll have to “take what you can get.”

#6 -Don’t get in over your head.

Jobs and projects are what you’ll need to earn an income if you become a freelance writer. They may seem far and few between at first, but once you get going it’s easy to get in over your head. If you say “yes” to everything that comes your way, you might wind up getting behind and ticking off a lot of people. I have certain weekly due dates for particular jobs that are set in stone, as in “I must get this done”-type projects. Others are a bit more laid-back and I work on them whenever I can. When they’re done, they’re done but there’s no extreme rush.

If you’re busy yet still want to tackle something, be honest and tell the client that you want to work with them but you have other things on your plate, too. If they’re in a huge hurry, they may be willing to pay a rush fee, and if they’re doing things slowly they may tell you to take as long as you need.

#7- Accept the fact that in order to earn money as a freelance writer, you have to actually do work.

I am extremely fortunate in that I no longer have to “look” for work. I’ve created what I feel is a rather large client base in a relatively short period of time. (Some people have been freelance writers for twenty years, so compared to them I’m a total newbie.) Some people find me directly from my website, others recommend me to their friends, my husband’s customers often ask for writing services, and a lot of people find me through the freelancer websites that I mentioned above.

Even so: in order to earn a living, I have to work. Some people may not consider “web content” a tangible item, but if I want to get paid I have to supply my clients with things that I have written for them. This year I have gone on vacation once and taken a few long weekend trips with my family, and each time I had to take my laptop with me.

Closing Thoughts…

In closing, I hope that this information can help some of you become a freelance writer. I’m old enough to realize that I can’t please everyone, so I know that these tips won’t please all of you, but they are things that have helped me out along the way. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email or post them below.

Steve’s Note:  Like I said in the intro I’m trying to find other perspectives on how to become self-employed.  That’s why I was really excited that Melissa agreed to put together this article for the “Steve Scott Site.”  Anyway if you want to know more about what it’s like to be a freelance writer, then be sure to take a look at Melissa’s site.

Take Action. Get Results.



{ 22 comments }

Ryan Biddulph

Hi Steve and Melissa,

Thanks for sharing the insights into a cool field.

My girlfriend is a freelance writer and loves it. It’s work, but as you mentioned she’s learned to focus on a specific niche and take on only projects which she enjoys. This allows her to write in-depth articles with greater ease.

Ryan Biddulph

ShortHairDiva

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for reading my post today! Glad to hear that your girlfriend has found something she likes to do. That’s SO much better than struggling with a job you hate. (I know that feeling!) Writing about topics you enjoy makes it even easier yet.

Have a great day
Melissa

lesley

Steve and Melissa

thanks for another interesting post. I’ve been freelance writing for a while now and it sounds like our experiences have been similar – I’m often surprised at the things I’m asked to write about, but it’s the variety which makes things fun for me.

Melissa I enjoyed your blog and will be a frequent visitor.

ShortHairDiva

Hey Lesley,

That’s great. At least I’m not alone when I get the crazy requests!

Thanks for checking out my site, too. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there (I think!) I have bookmarked your site as well. Glad to see someone else talking about grammar. 😉

Melissa

Matthew Needham

Really interesting post here Melissa, with some great tips even if you have no intention of being a freelance writer.

ShortHairDiva

Thanks Matthew. I’m familiar with your site (thanks to Steve’s) and must admit that I’m a fan!

🙂

Mandeep

Hey Melissa and Steve,

Very Interesting article, even though I don’t have any intention of becoming a freelance writer, the article was very attracting. Melissa, you obviously know how to write very well. I think freelance writing sounds like a very interesting field after what I have read here. Thanks for the great tips, they are sure to make anyone a better writer.

Best wishes to the both of you! 🙂

ShortHairDiva

Hey Mandeep,

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read through my article on freelance writing. I correspond with a lot of “mommy bloggers” online who simply run blogs for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that but I’ve also found it’s a great way for me to earn a living.

Best wishes!

Steve Scott

@ Ryan, Lesley, Matthew and Mandeep,

I am glad you all seemed to enjoy Melissa’s wonderful article. She is one heck of a good writer and I would be hard pressed to get all my things done without her help.

Thanks of course to Melissa for delivering another wonderful article this one from beyond the cloak of anonymity!

ShortHairDiva

Glad to do it!

Adam Paudyal

Hello Melissa and Steve,

Great tips and very interesting post. I can really relate to the suggestion #5. Even though I am not a freelance writer and probably won’t ever be one in future, I certainly agree that Writing is not WORK, if you really enjoy what you are writing about.

Since we are discussing freelance writing Melissa, I need an e-book created in one of the niche websites I am working on. I don’t have no special interest in the niche plus I couldn’t gather much information about it either…I tried to get a freelance writer in the United states to write me the e-book..but he wanted a hefty amount….I was thinking about outsourcing it in India or The Philippines…But I have some doubt about the quality I am going to get…What do you suggest I should do..?

ShortHairDiva

Hi Adam,

You brought up a good question. A problem that I run into on freelance websites is the fact that my bids for jobs seem often extremely high compared to writers outside of the US, but several of my clients have actually told me that they’ve had bad experiences with freelance writers elsewhere.

That’s not to say there AREN’T good writers elsewhere, but I’ve heard quite a few horror stories– things like people requesting payment up front but never delivering work, quoting a rate of $5 per hour and then claiming the project took 3 times longer than the original estimate, and turning over content that was so poorly written someone new had to be hired to fix it all anyway.

Perhaps you could find a writer you want to work with and suggest a smaller project as a “trial.” Have them write a blog post or two instead of an entire ebook. Maybe you’ll be pleased enough to hire them for the bigger project.

Just a few thoughts!
Melissa

Adam Paudyal

Hi Melissa,

Some people do have great success working with a freelancer from a third world country. But like you mentioned, I hear a lot about people getting ripped off or not getting their money’s worth…

Perhaps, I should consider what you suggested and have them work on a smaller project first…

Thank you for your insights Melissa.

Evelyn

Hi Melissa and Steve,

Thanks for this post! I found it to be very helpful. I am interested in getting into freelancing, so this was a very informative article.

Take care,

Evelyn

ShortHairDiva

Hey Evelyn,

Glad that you found a few ideas.

Have a great day!
Melissa

Fran Aslam

Hi Melissa and Steve:

Loved the post. Like knowing Melissa and her post, how she has given proven strategies one by one for the success of Freelance writer. I do the same and that is where my time goes.

I enjoyed every word of the post. I have not gone to see her site yet as I was more eager to write the comment with pleasure. Melissa your writing style is good too.

Hope to hear more from you.

Steve and Melissa, make yourself a wonderful day.

lawmacs

Hi Melussa thanks for sharing your life experience here a while back i started a online journalism course which i hope to complete soon i have learnt a lot from that but you have shared some valuable information here and it is much appreciated.

Noel

Great advice! I have been freelancing for awhile and this is spot on. You laid it all out perfectly–I have a friend looking to become a freelancer and I’m going to send this to her, along with some other materials to get started, as we speak (er … write)!

Steve Scott

Good Deal! I am glad you liked it and I hope your friend finds it useful. Thanks for dropping by and commenting

paul wolfe

Hey Melissa

Thanks for an interesting article – and thanks to Steve for publishing it.

Although I’ve got little interest in becoming a freelance writer (because I think in the long term I’ll do better creating my own eBooks etc, and building my own audience), one piece of information that’s missing is a detailed breakdown of the kind of earnings you can actually make as a freelance writer on the web.

Because I have absolutely no idea how lucrative it is.

Steve, any chance we could get a follow up article with that kind of detail?

Paul

Sarah Harris

Steve & Melissa

Thank You for the great article. The information will help many people. I do think that humanizing yourself does help to make others feel more comfortable in hiring you and trusting that you are a real person not just an article spinner.

I take my laptop everywhere as well Melissa, but mostly because I am never sure when something will hit me to write about, or to figure out and be the next project on my list. When you are self employed it is harder to take a vacation or have any time off. People always want that stay at home job, but they often don’t realize it really is 7 days a week often when you are on a deadline or things just aren’t flowing as well as they should.

Kostas

Becoming a professional freelance writer it’s not easy (if you want to get big projects and not just a 5$ / article) it requires a lot of practice, research for each project and creativity so someone should be serious about freelance writing as a career and certainly follow all the suggestions you mention here, thanks for sharing…

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